The accusation that the Labour Party, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, was a hotbed of Anti-Semitism, was made by a number of Labour Party officials in a BBC Panorama programme. The Labour Party commented that the individuals making the accusation did so out of political calculation as a move against the Party leadership. Those individuals then brought an action for defamation against the Party. The Party took legal advice and decided to defend itself against the action.
If that action had gone ahead, there would have been a thorough thrashing out of the issue in public, with the facts of the matter argued out under the rules of evidence before an impartial jury.
Jeremy Corbyn resigned the leadership. Sir Keir Starmer, who gave the Party membership to understand that he would preserve Corbyn’s heritage, was elected leader. One of his first actions was to stop the Court action by throwing away the Defence, thus pleading guilty on behalf of the party, and paying out vast sums of money to the plaintiffs.
Corbyn commented that the decision to concede the case was taken as a political tactic by Sir Keir, and not on the basis of altered legal advice about the strength of the Defence. The Defence had not been tested by trial and he stood by it.
A barrister, speaking for the plaintiffs, said that Corbyn’s denial that the Party had been found guilty at law was a repetition of the defamation and that legal action would be taken against him. If that had been done, then the trial of the action against Corbyn would have done what the trial of the action against the Party would have done, if Sir Keir had not aborted it.
But the threat of action against Corbyn led immediately to the setting up of a public fund for Corbyn’s defence, and the threat was not put into effect. And there can be little doubt that the plaintiffs, if they went ahead with legal action against Corbyn, would have brought about the very thing that Sir Keir saved them from by pleading guilty on behalf of the Party.
The meaning implicit in Sir Keir’s action was that the Party under Corbyn’s leadership was anti-Semitic. He made no clear statement about this at the time. He refused to answer the question whether he had called off the Defence under legal advice or for a political reason.
There was no realistic doubt that he did it as a political move to brand Corbyn an anti-Semite. He has now put that beyond dispute by suspending Corbyn from Party membership as an Anti-Semite because of a comment made by Corbyn : “One antisemite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media. That combination hurt Jewish people and must never be repeated.”
Sir Keir is by profession a common law barrister, but as a political leader he prefers Inquisition to debate. It came to light after his election that he is a strong Zionist and it is therefore understandable why he preferred that the issue of Labour Party Anti-Semitism should not be tested in open Court, in which both sides would be represented, but should be passed judgment on by a Committee.
The detail of the Report will be considered in a future issue of Labour Affairs. But the most important thing about it is that the affairs of the Party have now been put at the mercy of an outside body, and that last year’s Party leader has been indicted as an Anti-Semite by Sir Keir, who served with him last year, with all the appearance of being a loyal comrade.
It appears that the Labour Party is at another 1931 moment.